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1 Samuel

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Robert L. Cohn writes: "Although the division of Samuel into two books may seem artificial, 1 Samuel does possess its own literary logic, which begins with the birth of Samuel and ends with the death of Saul. In fact, the book falls clearly into two parts centering upon these two figures: chaps. 1-12 chart Samuel's career from his birth to his farewell address; and chaps. 13-31 start with the notice of Saul's reign and conclude with the account of his death. But this division is not rigid: Saul is introduced as early as chap. 9 and Samuel continues to function after chap. 12. Yet these appearances are subordinated to the stories of Samuel and Saul, respectively. Similarly, the second account of Saul's death in 2 Samuel 1 properly forms part not of Saul's story, but of David's. Unlike the first account of Saul's death in 1 Samuel 31, the second account is presented not as an objective narration but as a post factum, tendentious report by a messenger to David. Only in 2 Samuel 1, after Saul's death, does David function independently—in 1 Samuel he is regarded always as the servant of Saul and his story is always subordinated to Saul's." (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 268)

Samuel Sandmel writes: "Accordingly, viewpoints in Samuel-Kings clash and contradict each other. The antimonarchy chapters seem oblivious of the theme recurrent in Judges that a king was an urgent necessity. David and Solomon are both idealized and also severely criticized. The great Solomon is interpreted as the culprit responsible for the division of the monarchy. The editors seem to find it here recurrently necessary to explain why it was that the privilege of building the Temple was withheld from David and given to Solomon. The abundance of the material on David, with long sections reproduced from ancient sources without Deuteronomic comments, tends to obscure the true character of Samuel-Kings. If, however, one were to skip from the account (the first of two) of David's anointing, in I Samuel 16, to I Samuel 31, the death of saul; from there to II Samuel 5, David's election as king by the tribes, and the summary of his reign, to the account of his death in II Samuel 2, then the restored perspective will bear out that Samuel-Kings is an interpretation of kingship and not a history of it." (The Hebrew Scriptures, pp. 442-443)

James King West writes: "Efforts have been made to reduce the older sources in Samuel to two: (1) an early promonarchical source from the period of the United Monarchy, which is somewhat more favorably disposed toward Saul; and (2) a late antimonarchical source from the period of the later Monarchy (c. 750-650 B.C.), which centers most of its attention on Samuel. That we have in Samuel a compilation of promonarchical and antimonarchical traditions is not to be doubted, but that these two criteria can be made the basis for a simple duality of sources running the length of the work is far from certain. To regard the sources as continuations of the J and E strands of the Pentateuch is even less defensible. It is more likely that the compiler utilized a number of independent sources, of which—in addition to the (1) promonarchical and (2) antimonarchical traditions, we can distinguish (3) a Samuel infancy narrative (I Sam. 1-3), (4) a history of the ark (I Sam. 4-6; II Sam. 6), and (5) the so-called 'Court History of David' (II Sam. 9-20 and I Kg. 1-2). The Deuteronomist's role in the production of the work is not as easily as in the other books of the Former Prophets. His unmistakable style and theology are evident, however, in passages such as I Samuel 8 and 12, where he appears to have reworked the older antimonarchical traditions, giving to them a peculiarly Dueteronomic point of view." (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 185)

Jay G. Williams writes: "Chapter 9 now introduces Saul, a young and handsome Benjamite, who is looking for his father's lost asses. Thinking Samuel to be a clairvoyant, he goes to seek his aid. Instead of just learning about his father's animals, however, he is anointed king over all Israel. The story is amusing and sets the stage for the tragi-comic reign of King Saul; yet one must also see that there were some good reasons for the selection of Saul as king. In the first place, he was from Benjamin, a small and relatively unimportant tribe. Hence, his selection did not cause the tribal antagonisms which might have been produced by the choice of someone from Judah or Ephraim. Second, he was tall and handsome and looked, at least, like a leader. Third, he had no great yen for power. He came looking for some donkeys, not for the kingship, and that fact in itself was a point in his favor." (Understanding the Old Testament, pp. 170-171)

John H. Walton writes: "It is difficult to dissect Saul's offense of offering the sacrifice for the consecration of the soldiers prior to battle (chap. 13). Saul was in an awkward position. Samuel had not come to offer the sacrifice in preparation for battle, and Saul dared not go into battle without it—yet the opportunity for attack was passing quickly and the army was beginning to desert. What would be the most appropriate course of action? Saul acted in his best judgment and reluctantly offered the sacrifice. In doing so, he followed a Canaanite model of kingship, in which the king had certain priestly prerogatives. When Samuel arrived and learned what Saul had done, hew as absolutely livid. This is an example of Saul's inability to make wise decisions. The wisdom that was the natrual endowment of a true king had escaped Saul; he neither possessed it nor requested it. One could not succeed as king on good intentions." (A Survey of the Old Testament, p. 192)

J. Alberto Soggin writes: "One of the fundamental theological problems which appears right through the work is that of the election and rejection of particular people. Quite apart from any expectation of personal merit, and often choosing men whose morals are at least doubtful (David is the most impressive example of this), God directs human history by making use of individuals whom he elects and whom he endows with particular gifts in view of their vocation. To the modern reader Saul might hardly seem to be a 'sinner', and we might doubt whether his 'sin' made much impression on the reader or hearer of that time. Nor would it interest the reader of some centuries later that at the heart of the conflict between Saul and Samuel there were questions like that of the prerogatives of the monarch in the cult: only decades after Saul, David and Solomon intervened directly in the affairs of the cult, the first bringing the ark to Jerusalem with a solemn procession in which the king officiated and the second building a temple, sacrificing, blessing the people and pronouncing prayers of intercession, with hardly anyone making any objection. Moreover, the religious reforms launched by Hezekiah and then especially by Josiah were praised (with a few reservations) by the Deuteronomistic historian and were not attacked by the prophets, who were often very polemical in their encounters with the monarchy. More than dwelling on facts, then, the redactors were concerned to make an intensely theological presentation of two paradigmatic cases. In the case of Saul we have a man who was elected by God for a specific task but could not surrender his office once that task had been accomplished and could not see that others, more gifted than himself, were ready to succeed him. From this spiritual insensitivity there arose an inner conflict which led the protagonist to pathological forms of mistrust, hypochondria and persecution mania which would have proved suicidal for one who had been (and remained to the end) a prince without fault or fear had not his glorious death on the battlefield (to put it in pious terms) liberated him. In the case of David the situation is substantially different: here we have a most able and somewhat unscrupulous politician (the texts faithfully admit these qualities), a superb leader endowed with a special capacity for dealing with those like himself: so able that even Jonathan, the prince and heir, remains fascinated, although it becomes obvious that David has conspired against his interests. But, again following this description, David is never deaf to the word of God and thus appears to the redactor as a person who is capable of overcoming the many negative elements in his personality. These evaluations, then, are extremely subjective; they are intended to provide examples, and certainly go far beyond any historical investigation. The starting point of such considerations is, of course, the fact that Saul and his house lost the throne while David and his gained it. This fact 'should' have matched some divine intention (and here the interpretation of the facts leaves the sphere of secular history to enter the purely theological sphere) which the explanation given seeks to discover. And this is the weakness of such an approach on the level of history-writing. But it cannot be denied that the authors, whether deliberately or not we do not know, succeeded in presenting at least in the person of Saul a figure who anticipates the protagonists of Greek tragedy; this explains why for centuries, down to a few decades ago (see André Gide's play), the unhappy first king of Israel has beeen the protagonist of tragedies. He remains the hero, the loyal warrior incapable of taking part in a political game which is both refined and brutal, an art in which David, by contrast, was master. And the fact that David's work was crowned with success while that of Saul ended gloriously, but tragically, on the heights of Gilboa, does not prevent us from considering Saul to be the more sympathetic and the more upright of the two, even if in the intention of the redactors of the texts this is evidently a wrong view." (Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 194-196)

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